Author Archives: Jack

Driving through a graveyard

We woke up to a happy, sunny but nosehair freezing kind of day. After a quick stop for a couple of McSliders we retraced our route back to the Gettysburg welcome center. Marce had learned about a self -guided tour in a national parks app from the welcoming ranger, even though he seemed to be more concerned about any weapons or explosives we might be concealing under our voluminous heavy coats. The self guided tour actually starts in the town of Gettysburg so a little more backtracking was required.

As soon as we pulled up to the number one sign the app apparently knows that you’ve just pulled up and is keen to tell its story. Unlike most shiny pants installations it actually works.

It’s such beautiful peaceful countryside as you sit there, warm in your car while the voice of a faceless ranger describes the carnage that occurred just over that pleasant ridge, yeah, the one with a dozen cannon facing down the rise.

Really you’ve never seen so many cannons. Monuments and placards were spread out over the fields but more concentrated at the cool bits, where I’m sure something horrendous happened.

And then you come to Confederate Avenue. That’s where, oddly enough, twentieth century Southerners planted monuments memorializing their glorious struggle and they’ve been working overtime. The place is chock-a-block, practically paved with the things, mostly ironically placed on the sites where the Union troops defended their territory. However, I noticed a dozen or so Union cannon on the ridge — there’s at least a dozen on every ridge — facing down the rise in the general direction where the Confederates attacked from. When you win you get to call the tune, but the Confederates seem determined to write their own verses.

We drive from point to point, stopping to listen to what happened in each location. This is classic Pennsylvania countryside with gentle rolling hills, hardwood trees, and grassy meadows. It really is beautiful.

That is with one exception. Little Round Top. After the Confederate troops fought their way through the boulders of the Devil’s Den, they faced a frontal charge up this hill into the face of rifle and cannon fire.

It was a big ask and they knew it, suicidal unless by chance the Union forces were so depleted that they’d leave the hill relatively undefended. That’s exactly what happened. A small force of observers and semaphore communication officers were all there was on top of the mound.

This is where the Union was waiting at the top.

But with incredible bravery, those relatively junior Union officers rallied enough forces to save the day. But it was a close thing.

Marce is paying her respects at the massive Pennsylvania Memorial and looking for the names of her many ancestors who fought in the battle.

Finally you arrive at the site of Picket’s Charge on a hill above Gettysburg where the Flower of the South was spent. General Lee, gambling that one more all-out effort might cause the Union to collapse, sent his army on a frontal assault, charging up the hill directly into intensive cannon and rifle fire. The Union Army was damaged but held just the same. It was another close call but generally considered to have turned the tide for the Union. You can learn more about the entire three-day battle here.

Enough with all this slaughter. By this time you’ll be getting as hungry as Yours Truly was, so might I recommend the famous 3 Hogs BBQ? It’s worth the trip.

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Let the fun begin

As a kid if you’d grown up in Pennsylvania you’ve been to Gettysburg, site of one of the pivotal battles of the American Civil War. One could be forgiven for saying, “Been there, done that.” But you really haven’t. Apparently over the decades since I was last there they’ve made a few improvements. Let me just say at this juncture that nobody does mass battlefield carnage better than the good old U. S. of A.

First, the totally restored, brilliantly colored cyclorama is now housed in a new building which finally presents the 377 feet long by 42 feet high canvas, it says here, as originally designed and painted by Paul Philippoteaux in the 1880s. It depicts the final day of the battle, and especially Picket’s Charge, the last Confederate assault that sealed their fate.

The theatre is entered from below on an escalator and as you rise up to viewing level you’re enveloped in a predawn misty blue sky.

Real wagons, shrubbery and field pieces are artistically arranged in the foreground like figurants in a play, but still blend seamlessly into the perspective of the cyclorama.

Soon a few clashes start up and lights begin to flash, cannons boom with smoke rising over the area where the fun is commencing. Let the carnage begin!

If you’ve never visited a cyclorama (there aren’t that many left in the world) it’s the original multimedia presentation, where the audience stands in the middle and lights draw your attention to various parts of the painting while a narrator tells the story with a backing track of music and sound effects.

The action of the battle ranged over a wide area and it becomes obvious that it’s many skirmishes over miles of varied terrain.

This has everything, a cast of over 150,000 men maneuvering for advantage, cavalry, and just to allay any fears that this exercise is nothing but savagery, brother killing brother, we have booming artillery and a crowd favorite, frontal charges up the hill into the teeth of semi rapid rifle fire. I think that covers it. Lovely stuff.

The artist Paul Philippoteaux pictured behind a tree with sword drawn

For those of us who still have not had enough there’s an excellent museum just below the cyclorama. I always like to gaze at the real stuff and wonder how you could dispatch so many fellow Americans one at a time, in so short a time. As an aid to understanding it all there are several excellent short films to watch, some of them produced by the History Channel.

I caution you to take some sort of tracking device or you will get lost, just as Yours Truly did. I promised to mention the guard who found me, in the blog, so . . . Apparently I’m just no good anymore without a GPS chart plotter.

The weather had turned cold, wet and nasty so finding ourselves ahead of schedule for a change, we decided to return tomorrow to tour the battlefield by car.

Editor’s note: Most Pennsylvania natives can claim veterans or casualties of the battle of Gettysburg in their family tree. In my family, my great grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, was recruited among many other new arrivals to bolster the Union effort. He played the cornet and spent most of the rest of his life in the US Army as a bugler. He died in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. This photo was taken long after the Civil War was over. —Marce

Recruitment poster in German
Charles T. Boettger a few years before he died.

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While many of our friends are fighting their way up the Red Sea or around the Cape of good Hope, we were fighting the ever-evolving, mercurial Covid rules while trying to travel via air. So far we have prevailed mainly due to the dogged perseverance of Marce. It seems that traveling by sailing yacht gives one lots of time to work things out, while you have to work well ahead when jet airliners are involved. And that brings us to todays topic, Zanzibar.

We found accommodations at a stately old hotel, well preserved, out of the way, but near the ocean in Stone Town. Just the kind of place I like.

You couldn’t have planned a more disorienting circuitous route through the catacomb like alleyways that make up a cab ride through Stone Town. We haven’t a clue how to navigate this place and GPS was really having trouble. There is not one 90 degree turn in the entire place. Just down the street I noticed a seaside cafe so I thought we’d start there. Couldn’t get lost with this one.

It might’ve been me that said let’s go up a block and then return to our hotel on a parallel alley. There are no parallel alleys. As darkness settles over the town we turned a corner, tail dragging the gravy, expecting another disappointment but there she was the old Beyt Al Salaam.

To this day I have no idea how we managed that.
Getting lost and found would be the official plan of our days.

Marce hiding from the intense sun while trying to wake up our GPS!

I’ve always taken photos of doorways all over the world, and I find these an amazing similarity to the doors of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

I guess you’d be remiss to pass on buying spices at Spice Island but Bandaneira in Indonesia was better where you’d find a yard full of cloves or cinnamon bark drying on a tarp in somebody’s front yard. That’s the perfume of Spice Island.

Mr. Mango’s claim to fame is that Anthony Bourdain ate here and pronounced the Zanzibar Pizza as ‘weird, wonderful.” Marce agreed.

We had a tip from a friend for this one, four flights of rickety stairs and the view of Stone Town was wonderful, and so was the food.

Wandering these ancient alleyways was endlessly fascinating. The key is to find yourself perpetually lost but with no particular place to go and just let it all wash over you.

Lost and found

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I can’t remember when we started planning for a day of tired

You know, a day to recover and recoup. But I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it than the Mount Meru Nature Lodge. This time we got the number one room facing the watering hole, and to top it off, tonight is wood fired pizza night. It did not disappoint.

Marce was fighting off a spot of traveler’s lurgy so I was left to my own devices. I took some time to wander, which is something I like to do.

The grounds are peaceful, restful, and blessed with a healthy stream which leaves them lush and green in the middle of dry season. It’s no wonder all the animals stick around here.

The out buildings feature old photos, windup Victrolas, saddles, and memorabilia from the 1950s safari life along with production stills of nature films shot in the area. Amazing local Masai photos which sadly had to be shot in glass frames on the wall.

The following morning we’re being driven to the Kilimanjaro airport by our friend Julius, with great sadness at leaving Tanzania and yet tremendous excitement for our next destination.


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A nature walk with a Kalashnikov

After winding our way back up the switchback road, we got to the ranger station where we picked up a young guard with a weapon slung over his shoulder. He directed Emanuel to drive up to the rim of the caldera for the beginning of our game walk. Emanuel would meet us at the end of the trail.

I guess when we look back on it, our expectations were a little high. We were thinking we’d see wild animals close up, outside the protection of the Landcruiser. That’s why we had an armed ranger with us, we thought.

After we piled out I realized he’s got a damn Kalashnikov strapped over his shoulder. Twice he said, “If an elephant charges do not run, this is a very powerful weapon, I will fire a warning shot then aim to stop it!” Well, okay. I didn’t see any elephants around. “We won’t run,” Marce assured him.

He proceeded to repeatedly load and unload the gun with a ch-chung that was probably meant to give us a thrill. We quickly realized that in addition to climbing a semi steep rise, there were huge piles of poop on this trail that you kinda want to miss.

There are nature walks and then there’s nature and it soon became apparent that the Masai use this trail to move cattle around. Maybe too much nature. The only wildlife we were likely to see were the cows.

We spent some time taking the obligatory photos at the edge of the world’s largest caldera. Our ranger enjoyed using my new iPhone and Marce asked a few intelligent questions which he answered. Then he claimed if we went further we would struggle to keep up and he suggested we return to the Landcruiser. He spent the rest of our “walking safari” on his phone. I guess we can’t blame him. We were late getting there and he wanted to go home.

The road back to the ranger station was all washboard which set the whole Landcruiser to chattering and bucking. Apparently there is a prescribed speed which when adhered to, will launch the Landcruiser into the air and it just tiptoes over the ruts. Something like 50 kph. It’s a theory. Marce swears it’s how they drive in Philadelphia. Be forewarned.

Within shouting distance of the ranger station we caught up to a water truck laboring up a hill. We were heading directly into the sun and Emanuel was struggling to see through the glare in the windshield.

The water truck came to a stop. “Elephants,” Emanuel said, and we saw about 8 or 10 beasts crossing the road from right to left in front of the truck. Emanual stopped too, but the driver of the water truck, either impatient or struggling to ride the clutch on the steep road, kept inching forward toward the elephants. He eventually split the herd, let out the clutch and took off.

Emanuel, always respectful of the animals, paused as the last elephant crossed the road. Suddenly, we heard a loud trumpeting, the first we’ve heard in nearly a week of elephants. The three of us turned toward the sound, to the left, where Marce was sitting in the back seat.

Not six meters away, charging through the thick tangle of underbrush beside the road, was one massively pissed off elephant, trumpeting loudly, big tusks aiming right at Marce.

In an instant the ranger cocked his shotgun and lunged across to the seat behind Marce for a better shot. I thought, “My god if he fires that thing in the cruiser we’ll never hear anything again.” At the same time Emanuel mashed the accelerator and the Landcruiser surged forward up the hill in the nick of time. The elephant stopped just as he emerged from the bush at the edge of the road. He’d done his job, scared us off and protected his family. Emanuel and the ranger did the same, protecting us.

The adrenaline rush took quite a while to subside. What a day!


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5th dimension

Our story begins with the tattoo of our first African rain on the tent roof. The sailor in me says there should be calm after rain and an old Masai gentleman agreed saying, “Tomorrow you will fly.”

We woke up to a dead calm but very dark morning, if you can call 4am morning. Everything had a deja vu quality to it. I kept wondering if I’d taken care of something, or was that yesterday morning.? You can’t just leave your tent at night. We are actually inside a national game reserve and all night long we hear game walking through the camp, sometimes we even step in the evidence. After we convinced ourselves that everything was packed I radioed camp HQ and they sent one of the Masai to escort us to the waiting land cruiser. He smiled, “Today you fly.”

Immediately our darting headlights scared up several rabbits and soon we left the proper track making our own slightly less rutted trail, navigating from blue flag to blue flag hung every so often from a tree, like a ship navigating from buoy to buoy. It would be so easy to get turned around just like at sea.

We shuddered and bounced to another camp and picked up a couple who, it turns out were the birders of big game driving, ticking the box of everything they’ve seen, and now they’ve moved on to your lesser cats. He had a lens so long the camera looked like an afterthought hanging off the end. I, on the other hand, use an iPhone 12 and Emanuel gets us close.

Darting headlights ahead seem to coalesce at the meeting place with several amoeba shaped dark blobs. We’re going to fly. This pre flight orientation was even better than the last one while the balloon envelope continued filling with cold air. This is called a cold air fill.

There are hellacious looking burners used to heat things up a bit.

Marce and I were assigned a cubby and they tied the balloon basket to a land cruiser. Soon our skipper pointed at us and we hopped up into our compartment and after a few healthy burner blasts you could feel her tugging at the land cruiser.

Suddenly we had slipped the surly bonds of earth, as they say. Skipper wanted to stay low to catch the breeze toward the river. I could hear the basket skimming the tall grass. That’s low.

At one point we hit an old rotten tree that turned out to be a very sturdy old tree. A lady in front said, “I told him there was a tree coming.” Soon we gained altitude reveling in the majesty of the Serengeti

Hippo tracks to the river
A bloat of hippos

We watch as the hippos form a line and head down stream.

Floating over our breakfast camp we start our descent to touch down near a herd of wildebeest.

We enjoyed a traditional champagne toast followed by a full English breakfast.


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Watch your course matey

Flap, flap…
Flap…flap, flap

I reached over to tap the hull, our signal to trim the sheets or mind her course. No hull. In fact we’re in Tanzania in a tent on safari. I know that sound though and that’s around 8 knots which is about cutoff for today’s activity. It’s 04:00 hrs and we’re catching a ride this morning.

So it’s going to require some warmish clothing and all the cameras at full charge. Don’t have much that’s warm. Living in 95 F in Malaysia for three years will tend to winnow down the warm stuff.

Africa’s deeply rutted and washboard dirt roads are hard to take at 04:45. We pick up a German woman at a remote camp about a half hour from us. Back on the road a sated and blood-covered lioness appeared in our headlights. She strolled down the center of our narrow lane unconcerned that we followed her at a crawl for fifteen minutes before she veered off into the undergrowth. After a while we are at the meeting spot. Brilliant light beams probe the blackness, turning the Serengeti grass to fire, darting dancing at all angles as Landcruisers come from all over to converge at this spot on the plains of Serengeti to watch the sunrise. The vast majesty of this place, especially at sunrise, must be seen to be believed.

Frank is a short spunky bloke with a funny tie under his well worn leather flyboy jacket, who was not pleased with the 8+ knot gusts passing over the Serengeti plain. No, not at all pleased. We are happy just to watch the sun come up.

There are over 10 trucks and 30 paying guests and even more ground crew waiting for the word from Frank. The word is no. Safety first. We will not fly today.

Poor Marce freezing and fighting a cold

The entire process reverses, the chattering, the bouncing, but without lioness. Maybe tomorrow.

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From motor scooter to the land of the smallish motorcycle

Wheels down in Kilimanjaro, after a layover in Doha, and in minutes we knew this was going to be different. It’s a smallish, but certainly not the smallest airport we’ve ever landed in. We found our bags sitting on the floor in the terminal.

A guy, who looked like he had highly discounted Rolex watches to sell leaned in and said, “I get you tru these lines tout de suite. Show me your Covid papers.”

He frowned. Evidently we were missing the secret most important form. He smiled and said, “I get you tru anyhow,” followed by the standard awkward pause while we fumbled for shillings in astronomical quantities. It is something like 2,301 Tanzanian shillings to 1 usd. As a reformed cheapskate Yours Truly finds it hard to hand over 20,000 anything as a tip.

Dazed and confused, we’d been traveling continuously for two straight days, schlepping all our bags. We squinted out into the African sun to find our new friend Emanuel, smiling his humble smile, holding a sign that proclaimed “Jack Archer.” Close enough! He stowed our bags and we scrambled up into a genuine nine passenger indestructible 4×4 Toyota Landcruiser, standard transportation in African bush.

Forty-five minutes later Emanuel pulled into the lush deep green oasis of our game sanctuary lodge just outside of Arusha, our home for the night.

We hadn’t had to dodge one motor scooter the whole trip. We’re in the land of dodging the small engined motorcycle.

We knew we’d have to rest fast because tomorrow morning Emanuel would pick us up in the Landcruiser for the long ride up to Lake Manyara National Park to start our African safari. I have to say it felt like we’d already been safari-ing.

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We really need to take a breath

So where do you go to find the breathing space to make a plan to try to piece your life back together again? Cruisers always say that plans are written in the sand at low tide, and when you consider that the wind changing direction just a few degrees means you aren’t going where you thought you were going, you can see where this mystical fatalism comes from. Our answer is Penang.

We always stay in old Georgetown which is a world heritage site chock-a-block with crumbling colonial architecture, some being repurposed, some not.

Famous for street art. I don’t know why but this is a vibe I seem to really like.

This time we’re staying in an Airbnb which is a two story traditional family home, maybe middle class, with the craziest fixtures, hardwood floorboards one foot wide, omnipresent shutters, open air courtyard, dog bone windows and clay tile roof.

Some might think we moved here because we are right around the corner from the Mugshot which has the best bagels this side of New York City.

Marce ready to tuck into guacamole at an Escapee favorite Holy Guacamole.

Only partly true because the pastries next door are sensational. We even found a new Banh Mi place that’s better than any we had in Vietnam.

Ah…the plan you ask. There is a destination and an activity. It involves Covid testing, visas, money changing and the kind of clothing we haven’t seen in years, so shopping in Penang’s massive malls is considered great sport for the huge towers filled with wealthy Hong Kong expats, but Yours Truly is not amused by the activity. All I know is every day I reach for something I need but now it’s missing. It’s going to take some time.

So check the box for the first step, done and dusted, and take a deep breath.

PS just heard that Escape Velocity is now called ESCAPE VELOCITY.


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Two stones roll into a bar

One turns to the other and says, ”hey what’s all that moss about?” “Well I’ve been hanging around here for quite a while now and it kinda feels like a change would do us good.”

Where to start? I’m searching for the words. After all, I’ve found Rebak Island to be an amazingly safe hurricane hole, both for storms and Covid, quiet, friendly, beautiful, with abundant birds, sea eagles hornbills, monkeys, lizards and so many fish that it can be annoying.

We’ve even been able to carry out many projects, collecting boat bits from all over the world’s chandleries.

But after returning from our South East Asia travels and getting locked down by the pandemic, we took notice that a curiously odd bit of lurgy was spreading out from roughly our neck of the woods. Some of our cruiser friends provisioned up and asked to be excused. I mean they rolled right on out of here while the rolling was good, even though the traditional harbors along the way were closed. Even Thailand’s border, almost within sight, was closed. Many of those brave souls got involved in international imbroglios spending many months quarantined on their boat. Most, in true cruiser fashion, found a way to have fun and adventure regardless. Unable to travel off the boat because once you left Malaysia you couldn’t return, and feeling less and less inclined to cross the Indian Ocean, we stayed put.

We aren’t used to “put.” We don’t do “put.” It chafes. We watched as the world turned upside down under lockdown. Stuck in our own little tropical paradise doesn’t sound so tough, but it wears. A velvet lined trap for the traveling soul.

Maybe it was time for a serious change. A big change. It’s tricky changing when everything you own in this world is stashed into forty feet of sailing yacht.

For me it felt like a stealthy plan that formed out of the ether, which then snuck up on me while Yours Truly was dozing poolside. Much too soon, before anyone was even allowed into Malaysia, improbably an offer was proffered for our loyal home. Big changes were afoot. It was madness from the get go. Eleven large boxes, overstuffed with, well stuff, numbered, weighed, categorized, schlepped, ferried to Langkawi to await a slow boat to New Jersey.

But what will we do with us? I mean what’s the plan Stan? Every day we have to field that question and I usually say, ”I’m not driving this bus my friend.”

The logical destination would be Thailand but they’ve been working Covid as a money making proposition with weeks of quarantine at their special hotel eating their special food, with special testing, special visa prices, etc. We will pass on that at least for now, although rumors persist that they’re going to lighten up.

I don’t know, where do you Escapees think we should go? The problem is that we’ve been here so long we’ve got to calling it home.


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